Where shall my next vacation be?

Dr. Navniit Gandhi
Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Am an average middle-class Indian, residing in Kuwait. Every year, this question leaps like a frog in my mind... In fact, it starts playing around, even as soon as I am back from a vacation. I do not have the luxury of no-bounds budget, wherein there are no constraints. And, it is precisely this that makes travel interesting. If one has a lot of money just lying about, there is no fun in planning a vacation. One can just pick a destination... pack a bag and there you are!!! But a vacation which is made possible after months of scratching the brain and surfing the net, is like licking an ice-cream cone, which one has carefully bought, while taking out the money in a slow motion, and chosen the flavour after lot of contemplation.

The options for travel—both affordable and the exotic—are plenty in India. One can have the desert; the snow; the plains; the hilly terrain; the adventure; the romantic getaway; the historical; the modern and the picturesque. If only we could travel to a new destination in India every time, it would be well worth the effort and expense. We and especially, our children can know and communicate with our country better. However, lurking behind this desire to explore the expanse that India is, is a desire to see the unknown too. The strange lands, enriched with a different culture and terrain, also have a calling that is hard to resist. And then the question keeps leaping that where can one possibly go, from Kuwait?

Some places are picturesque but may have other constraints, as for example, safety. A few years ago, travelling to Damascus (Syria) or Alexandria (Egypt) would have unfolded many a mysteries and joys. However, today, it is not feasible to think of a vacation to these places. The place should be safe to travel with family too. The other day, while going through this hidden gem, that Eritrea is, I was saddened by the fact that there are travel advisories issued by many governments against travelling to such a beautiful and affordable place. There are problems that this country has, with Ethiopia and Sudan. Otherwise, Eritrea was once heralded as a good place for travelling and, with a bit of luck, it could soon be so again. But as long as the country is at odds with its neighbour Ethiopia, its sworn enemy, tourism development won’t be a priority. Otherwise, it is a truly hidden gem. Asmara- its capital boasts the most shining collection of colonial architectural wonders in Africa. It is like a film set from an early Italian movie, with vintage Italian coffee machines and outstanding examples of Art-Deco architecture. On the Red Sea Coast, the sultry town of Massawa is redolent with Islamic influence. It is also the starting point for visits to the Dahlak Islands, one of the least spoilt and least known reefs in the Red Sea. Southern Eritrea features a superb array of archaeological sites that recount volumes of history. The apocalyptic wasteland of Dankalia, stretching to the south, is considered one of the most arresting places on earth and has a desolate magnetism.

Also, places such as Turkey, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are so often travelled to, and discussed about, that am conveniently taking the liberty of excluding it from this article. Places around Kuwait are many, and all cannot all be discussed in detail in one article. However, keeping in mind the fact that we have constraints of time and money, I have listed below three destinations which are nearby, involve reasonable expense, and are excellent destinations from a tourist’s point of view.
How expensive or affordable a destination is, depends on the season (peak or slack) one chooses to travel in; the airline and how much in advance does one make a booking; and what is the preferred standard for accommodation. Of course, one suggestion is that one could enjoy a stay in a B&B (Bed and Breakfast). Opened and operated by the locals in almost every city that is a tourist destination, staying in B&B not only encourages the simple native folks in their endeavours, but also provides the visitors with a first-hand experience of the local cuisine, hospitality, and way of life, in general. In addition, staying in a home has a charm, unparalleled.

•A very attractive and one of the most tourist-friendly destinations can be Cyprus- a Mediterranean island at the cross road of three continents. Its current economic woes notwithstanding, it offers everything that a tourist looks forward to: clean pristine beaches... mesmerising mountain-trails... lovely weather almost round-the-year... historical wonders... friendly natives... good food... architectural delights and of course, lot of adventure and sports. English is widely spoken in this legendary birthplace of the Goddess of love—Aphrodite. While Ayia Napa offers many avenues for adventure and also an opportunity to enjoy idyllic evenings and ‘happening’ night-life, the capital city Nicosia offers the usual delights that a city’s history and architecture provides. There are breathtaking villages such as Lefkara, where lace-making is still a vividly practised art and life stands still after sunset. The beaches and the entire coast line of Aphrodite Baths are alluring and the sea-food delights at the tavernas inviting.

The best feature of a vacation in Cyprus is that one can conveniently and safely move about on one’s own. A car can be hired and one can drive all around, with utmost ease. The nation is extremely tourist-friendly and the sign-boards and roads easy to follow. Also, there is something for every kind of tourist. As far as staying options are concerned, one can choose from innumerable alternatives. And one of the best is of course, the Bed and Breakfast option...

•Another friendly, warm and hospitable destination, which is steeped in a rich history and diverse geographical landscapes, is Jordan. Its capital- Amman is bustling with crowds and action but it is advantageous to put up in a hotel in the capital city due to its central location. All other attractions—Madaba, Jerash, Petra, etc are all within easy reach from there. The most striking feature of a vacation in Jordan is the ‘people’, who are warm, open, humble and friendly. They talk, laugh, guide and even dance and sing with the foreign travellers without inhibitions. They welcome visitors and take pride in showing them around their fascinating and vibrant city. Hotels and B&Bs are for all kinds of travellers—from the modest to those who prefer luxury. Besides the yummy Arabic food, lot of international cuisines available in the food-courts of the stylish shopping malls.

Amman is a city of contrasts-– a unique blend of old and new, ideally situated on a hilly area between the desert and the fertile Jordan Valley. The ultra-smart boutiques and restaurants rub shoulders with the quaint coffee shops and traditional workshops of artisans, making everything from fabulous jewellery to everyday household items. Petra, the rose-red city is a marvel of the world and undoubtedly the most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction in Jordan. Petra was first established sometime around the 6th century BC, by the Nabataean Arabs, a nomadic tribe which settled in the area and laid the foundations of a commercial empire that extended into Syria. The best time to see Petra, especially if you’re planning to take photographs, is either early to mid-morning or late afternoon, when the angled sun highlights and enhances the amazing natural colours of the rocks.

Acknowledged to be one of the best-preserved Roman provincial towns in the world, Jerash is another favourite destination in Jordan, which boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years. The Jerash Festival held in July every year, transforms the ancient city into one of the world’s liveliest and most spectacular cultural events. Another most spectacular natural and spiritual landscapes in the world, is the Jordanian east coast of the Dead Sea, which has evolved into a major hub of both religious and health & wellness tourism in the region. The lowest point on the face of the earth, this vast, stretch of water receives a number of incoming rivers, including the River Jordan. Once the waters reach the Dead Sea they are land-locked and have nowhere to go, so they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and minerals that supply industry, agriculture and medicine with some of its finest products.

Aqaba, Wadi-Rum and Bethany are other irresistible places that are a must-see while one is vacationing in Jordan.
Is there a place we can escape to, during the unbearably hot summers of Kuwait? A hill-station? A green haven; an oasis? This question must have crossed your mind too. The answer is: ‘Yes’.

• A city which can boast of an eternal spring is Salalah, in Oman. Salalah City receives its visitors with large vistas of grass and water mist, opening its arms to them and spreading the shade of its palm trees. Its history is rich; and topography, richer. One can marvel at the sunrise, the sunset, and enjoy the drizzle of the monsoon and a walk on the wet grass. A recipient of International Awards for tourism, the Sultanate of Oman, is another ideal vacation-destination. The Omanese are also extremely simple folks, who are friendly and hospitable. Their history tells stories of heroism, courage, wisdom, patriotism, love and devotion to homeland.

Oman’s capital Muscat, offers a wonderful variety of nature, golden beaches, mountainous heights, and golden sand dunes. This heart of Oman, boasts of a unique inter-mingling of tradition and modernity. One can see houses, gates, old markets, small shops, and winding roads replete with authentic history, along with modern markets, shops, buildings, and streets stamped with modern architecture. Muscat is renowned as one of the cleanest Arab capitals, and has gained the honour of winning the Cleanest Arab City Contest several consecutive times. Moreover, the nation has a sizeable Indian population, due to which, one can enjoy the specialities of Kutch, Gujarat, and all other South Indian and North Indian delicacies. There are restaurants offering yummy yummy thalis and small take-aways selling vada pav too!!!

There are Dhow cruises and Dolphin tours in Khasab; the road from Nizwa to the Grand Canyon is a must-go, when in Oman; and then of course, there are castles and golf-courses which simply take away every visitor’s breath.

Finally, a vacation is all about one’s state of mind. If one is surrounded with loved ones, and is eager to spend tranquil moments and savour memories for a lifetime, every vacation can be a memorable one. A little rest; a little adventure; lot of love and laughter and a little introspection within—and a vacation gets forever etched on our hearts.

Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academician, and a freelance writer/columnist. She has been writing extensively for several newspapers, magazines, web-portals and academic publications and has authored five Books, till date.
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